Taste Dorset and the South West at Orchard Park !
At last the fine weather is here and with it a cornucopia of Dorsetshire delights. From Child Okeford we have the most delicious young spinach, fresh garlic, baby cucumbers, mange-tout peas, broad beans, beetroot and lettuces. With Wimbledon comes strawberries and we have the privilege of bringing you the freshest fruit from the Ansty PYO and Farm Shop – strawberries and gooseberries are now in stock. We also have the last of the English asparagus from the New Forest. True to our motto of “fresh, seasonal and local” we hope you like what you see.
Which plant group is the backbone of the summer garden, delivering colour, fragrance and attracting the attention of beneficial wildlife and humans alike? The answer is perennials, that wonderful family of herbaceous plants that launch into life every spring.
Think of the stars of borders in gardens big and small and the chances are they will be perennials. Colour is key with perennials – there is such a varied palette to choose from. It’s up to you to decide the mood you want as the garden backdrop to your life – the excitement or vibrancy of red, the romance of pink or the calm of blue and for a plant family that offers all of these and more, look no further than perennial Salvia or sage plants.
Offering true perennial perfection, these are a wonderful choice for gardeners looking to bring stunning colour and style to their borders. There is an amazing range to select from, many of them Award of Garden Merit holders, so you can be sure of getting top performance. Now is a great time to plant container grown plants and many salvias are drought tolerant, once established. This makes them a fantastic asset if you are gardening in a drier area.
Some Salvias are great for attracting beneficial wildlife, including butterflies and bees. This will give a boost to the overall health of both your garden and the surrounding environment – so what are you waiting for? Like most perennials, Salvias are easy to look after. Some are fully hardy across the UK, but others are less so and in certain areas may be better looked on as annuals. The name Salvia comes from the latin ‘to heal’. We still use culinary Salvia in stuffing, perhaps unconciously helping our digestion!
Here are some suggestions: Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ – a wonderful perennial reaching about 75cm in height, bearing violet to purple flowers, fully hardy. Chelsea 2010 Best in Show Award winning designer Andy Sturgeon highlighted this variety in his BBC TV interview prior to the show. Salvia officinalis – a foliage plant with culinary uses, evergreen and hardy, up to 80cm high; Salvia coccinea ‘Lady in Red’ – great for a summer show of red flowers (tender). The closely related ‘Lady in White’ bears white flowers. Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’ is frost hardy (safe down to -5oC’) and produces very elegant, pale blue flowers. Salvia pratensis is a clump-forming perennial with a woody base. Up to 90cm in height and bearing flowers of violet, though in some case may be pink or white. Hardy.
Salvias are a sun-loving plant, so grow in either full sun or dappled shade. Soils need to be well-drained and moderately fertile. Remove flowers once they have ‘gone over’ (dead heading) and trim in late spring any shoots that spoil symmetry.
I dare not predict the weather. It’s looking good at the moment and the barbeques are running well but I don’t have the resources of the Met Office or the BBC, or even an old strand of sea weed, so I will resist the temptation of putting my head on the block and say what a great summer we are going to have because it could all change in the next month or so. We live on an island. Surrounded by water, much affected by tides and in the northern hemisphere. That means the weather can be changeable to say the least. In the centre of continental Europe the challenge is less as weather systems tend to be more stable and more predictable. Actually weather charts recently have been quite encouraging, nice area of high pressure over our bit and a dirty great smear of rain bearing cloud from Germany down to the South of France. Gardening at this time of the year is absolutely wonderful; you can hear things growing. I look at my vegetable patch and I can see the difference from day to day and that gives me a real boost especially as it seems to have been such a long time and has involved so much effort in actually producing anything remotely edible. I blame the late frosts and the cold winter but the soil did seem to take a long time to warm up and some of the early sowings were less than productive.
I have managed to get out and about a bit and am not long back from a late spring trip to visit my expatriated brother-in-law in the Czech Republic; fascinating country and still has much of the elements of its communist past still in place. Severe, gaunt grey buildings and rather dismal residential areas. There are some very beautiful historic buildings and dramatic castles that have been brought back to life. It’s a habit that I probably share with other gardeners, but I always like to have a look at what other peoples gardeners are like. Food in Czech Republic is not as varied as Dorset and garden produce seems to be mostly potatoes, onions and broad beans. It’s too cold to overwinter brassica crops so if you grow dense white cabbages you have to harvest and store before mid November. Salad crops seemed to be a rarity but it might be that they hadn’t sown them yet although the tomatoes were well up and planted out. There was a definite change since our last visit with evidence of new buildings in the villages and more ornamental gardens. Fruit trees still line the roads leading to the village; in the old days villagers ask the village organising committee if they could look after a particular tree [all numbered] and harvest the crop. That would be an excellent scheme here I think and a worthwhile extension of the allotment system.
5 years have flown past at Orchard Park, established on the edge of Gillingham’s Royal Forest on the Shaftesbury side of town. The original idea came out of a casual conversation between Ron & Sheila Clarke of Park Farm whose Farm Shop specialised in traditional beef breeds born and bred in Gillingham, and Richard & Sue Cumming with their country garden and plant centre at Milton Garden Plants which had become a real horticultural gem for gardeners in the area.
The new garden centre was officially opened by David Howard who was then Prince Charles’ Head Gardener at Highgrove. David called in again on Friday to see how things had progressed and witnessed first hand the activities at Orchard Park as the garden centre and farm shop celebrated their 5th anniversary with two days of events.
On Friday with a background of summer jazz from local band, Lizzie Sparkle, several of the Farm Shop suppliers including Mere Fish Farm, Lavender Blue Cakes, Longmans Cheese and the ever popular Keystone Brewery brought along samples of their produce for members of the Orchard Park club to try and buy. Orchard Park’s own resident barbeque experts had a range of Weber BBQ’s running with gas and charcoal grills and the unique Weber Smoker which cooks or rather smokes food over moist scented wood chips to give that extra flavour to food cooked outdoors.
Eleanor, the representative from Alexander Rose, the leading garden furniture manufacturer who supply Orchard Park’s range of beautiful crafted wooden benches, tables and chairs gave helpful advice on how to look after your furniture as well as how to find the right bits in the first place.
Plant lovers were not left out either as the plant team staged special informative displays on plants to attract insects to the garden, looking especially at bees and gave detailed advice on grow-your-own herbs. On Saturday face painting for the children, Felix the Orchard Park clown, a Hog Roast from local pork producers Pure Pigs, honey from Gillingham bee-keeper Mark White and additional activities from Spotty Pots the resident ceramic painting studio at Orchard Park.